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The Empuls Glossary

Glossary of Human Resources Management and Employee Benefit Terms

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What is Sick Leave?

Sick leave is paid time off work that employees can use to address their health needs without losing pay. It's different from vacation time in that it's specifically meant for illness or medical appointments.

How does sick leave work?  

The process of sick leave are

1. Accrual methods:

  • Fixed amount: You get a set number of sick days each year, like 5 or 10 days. These days are yours to use and typically don't roll over to the next year if unused.
  • Accrued leave: You earn sick leave over time, based on the hours you work. Common accrual rates are 4 hours per pay period or 1 hour per every 40 hours worked. This allows full-time employees to accrue more days than part-time employees.
  • Front-loaded: You receive your entire year's sick leave allowance at the beginning of the year.

2. Notification and documentation requirements:

  • Notification: Most employers require you to notify your supervisor as soon as possible when you'll be taking sick leave. This allows them to adjust workloads and schedules. Some companies may have specific ways you need to report your absence, like calling a designated phone number or using an online portal.
  • Doctor's note: An employer may require a doctor's note for absences exceeding a certain number of days, This is usually 3 days or more. The note typically verifies your illness and indicates when you can return to work.
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Why is sick leave important?  

Sick leave is important for several reasons, benefiting both employees and employers:

  • Employee health and well-being: When employees are sick, they need time to recover without financial worry. Sick leave allows them to rest, focus on getting better, and avoid spreading illness to coworkers. This leads to a healthier workforce overall.
  • Reduced absenteeism: Presenteeism, which is working while sick, can be just as disruptive as full absenteeism. Employees who feel pressured to come to work sick are often less productive and more likely to make mistakes. Sick leave allows them to take the time they need to heal and return at full capacity.
  • Improved morale and productivity: Employees who feel valued by their employer and have access to benefits like sick leave tend to be happier and more productive. Knowing they can take time off when sick reduces stress and allows them to focus better when they are at work.
  • Public health: By allowing sick employees to stay home, sick leave helps prevent the spread of contagious illnesses throughout the workplace and the community. This is especially important during flu season or pandemic situations.
  • Employee retention: Companies that offer competitive benefits packages, including sick leave, are more likely to attract and retain top talent. Employees value access to sick leave and see it as a sign that their employer cares about their well-being.

How can employers track and manage sick leave effectively?

Here are some ways employers can effectively track and manage sick leave:

1. Clear policies and procedures:

  • Written policy: Have a clear and concise written policy outlining sick leave accrual, notification requirements, acceptable uses, and documentation procedures (doctor's notes). This should be readily available to all employees in an employee handbook or intranet site.
  • Manager training: Train managers on the sick leave policy so they can answer employee questions and handle situations consistently.

2. Tracking methods:

  • Time and attendance software: Many payroll or timekeeping software programs have built-in features for tracking sick leave. This allows employees to request leave and managers to approve it, all within the system. It also generates reports to help monitor leave usage.
  • Spreadsheets: Smaller companies may use spreadsheets to track sick leave. While effective for basic needs, this can be time-consuming and prone to errors.

3. Management strategies:

  • Open communication: Encourage open communication between employees and managers about sick leave. This allows for early intervention if there are patterns of excessive absences.
  • Focus on prevention: Promote a healthy work environment to reduce preventable illnesses. This could include offering flu shots, encouraging healthy habits, and promoting work-life balance to reduce stress.
  • Return-to-work conversations: Schedule brief conversations with employees upon their return from sick leave, especially for extended absences. This shows concern for their well-being and helps ensure a smooth transition back to work.
  • Monitor trends: Regularly review reports on sick leave usage to identify potential problems, like high absenteeism in a particular department or during certain times of the year. This allows for targeted interventions.

4. Maintaining trust:

  • Be reasonable: While tracking sick leave is important, employers should also be reasonable. Don't micromanage legitimate illnesses.
  • Respect privacy: Maintain confidentiality around employee health information.
  • Focus on supporting employees: The goal should be to support employee well-being and productivity, not to punish them for getting sick.

When should employees notify their employer about sick leave?

The ideal timing for notifying your employer about sick leave depends on the situation:

  • Planned absence: If you know in advance you'll need sick leave, like for a scheduled doctor's appointment or surgery, it's best to notify your employer as soon as possible. This gives them time to adjust workloads and delegate tasks if necessary. Some companies may have specific deadlines for requesting planned sick leave, be sure to check your company policy.
  • Unplanned illness: If you wake up feeling unwell and can't come to work, notify your employer as early as possible. Ideally, this should be before your scheduled start time. Informing your employer early allows them to make arrangements to cover your workload and keeps them informed about your absence.
  • During work hours: If you become sick while you're already at work, let your manager know as soon as possible. You can explain you're not feeling well and need to go home.

Here are some additional factors to consider:

  • Severity of illness: If you're very sick and unable to communicate effectively, it may be necessary for a family member or friend to contact your employer on your behalf.
  • Company policy: Always refer to your company's sick leave policy for specific notification requirements. Some companies may have a designated call-in number or online portal for reporting absences.
  • Communication method: Choose the most appropriate method to notify your employer based on the urgency of the situation. For planned absences, an email may be sufficient. For unplanned absences where you can't come to work in the morning, a phone call may be necessary.

What happens when an employee exhausts their sick leave balance?  

There are a few possibilities for what happens if an employee exhausts their sick leave balance, depending on the specific company policy and situation:

  • Leave without pay (LWOP): This is the most common option. The employee can take additional unpaid leave to recover from their illness. The duration of unpaid leave permitted may be capped by company policy, or it could extend for a longer period depending on the circumstances.
  • Use of vacation or other leave: Some companies allow employees to use their accrued vacation time or other paid leave options (like personal days) for additional sick leave. This would depend on the company policy and whether the employee has any of these benefits available.
  • Short-term disability: If the employee's illness is serious and requires a prolonged absence, they may qualify for short-term disability benefits. These benefits typically replace a portion of the employee's regular wages for a set period of time. However, short-term disability is usually a separate program with its own eligibility requirements and may not be available to all employees.
  • Return to work with limitations: In some cases, an employee who is still recovering from an illness may be able to return to work with limitations. This could involve a temporary modified work schedule or lighter duties. This option would need to be approved by the employer and may require a doctor's note.
  • Job termination: Unfortunately, in some rare situations, an employer may choose to terminate an employee's position if their illness results in excessive absences that significantly disrupt the workplace. This would likely be a last resort after exploring other options.

How does sick leave impact performance metrics and productivity?

Sick leave can impact performance metrics and productivity in both positive and negative ways:

1. Negative impacts:

  • Absenteeism: When employees are absent due to illness, it reduces the total amount of work completed. This can lead to missed deadlines, delays in projects, and a strain on colleagues who have to cover for absent workers.
  • Reduced productivity: Even when employees come to work sick (presenteeism), they are often less productive. They may work slower, make more mistakes, or have difficulty concentrating.
  • Disruption and rework: An employee's absence can disrupt workflows and team dynamics. Colleagues may need to spend time catching up the absent employee or redoing work that wasn't completed properly.
  • Impact on morale: High rates of absenteeism can lead to lower morale among other employees who have to pick up the slack. This can create a negative work environment.

2. Positive impacts:

  • Improved employee health: When employees are allowed to stay home when sick, they can recover properly and return to work healthier. This leads to fewer long-term absences and a healthier workforce overall.
  • Reduced presenteeism: By allowing employees to take sick leave, you discourage presenteeism, which can actually be more detrimental to productivity.
  • Improved focus and concentration: Employees who feel well are generally more focused and able to concentrate better on their tasks, leading to higher quality work.
  • Boosted morale: Offering sick leave as a benefit shows employees that their well-being is valued. This can lead to higher morale, increased engagement, and ultimately, greater productivity.

Employee pulse surveys:

These are short surveys that can be sent frequently to check what your employees think about an issue quickly. The survey comprises fewer questions (not more than 10) to get the information quickly. These can be administered at regular intervals (monthly/weekly/quarterly).

One-on-one meetings:

Having periodic, hour-long meetings for an informal chat with every team member is an excellent way to get a true sense of what’s happening with them. Since it is a safe and private conversation, it helps you get better details about an issue.


eNPS (employee Net Promoter score) is one of the simplest yet effective ways to assess your employee's opinion of your company. It includes one intriguing question that gauges loyalty. An example of eNPS questions include: How likely are you to recommend our company to others? Employees respond to the eNPS survey on a scale of 1-10, where 10 denotes they are ‘highly likely’ to recommend the company and 1 signifies they are ‘highly unlikely’ to recommend it.

Based on the responses, employees can be placed in three different categories:

  • Promoters
    Employees who have responded positively or agreed.
  • Detractors
    Employees who have reacted negatively or disagreed.
  • Passives
    Employees who have stayed neutral with their responses.

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